First, I want to clarify. I'm not a big fan of fairs and festivals where onion blossoms, corn dogs, and funnel cakes are front and center, although those foods (occasionally) have a time and place.
I'm interested in festivals you've attended where a certain food was glorified in a chowworthy way, front and center, where you came away having learned something, and tasted something new to you. Also, please let everyone know if you went to a festival that seemed like it ought to be a glorification of a particular food, but sorely disappointed you.
Carmel California - the tomato festival each September. We went in 2001 and had a wonderful time. Then, it was $75 pp, and what you got was 50 local chefs putting together a tomato-based dish, an olive oil tasting and a salsa tasting (featuring maybe 30 each), but best of all, an enormous table made of 4 large party tables set in a square with approximately 200 varieties of heirloom tomatos, diced, for everyone's tasting pleasure. Obviously, there were plenty of tomatoes and seeds to buy, and at the end, there was a free for all for the imposing specimens of each heirloom that sat atop a pedestal next to their diced up relations, so that we could see how striking these tomatoes were. Clint Eastwood was there, emcee'ing some contest that I've forgotten about. And many of the chefs ran out of slittle dishes long before the event ended. But that tomato tasting table was worth the admission price by itself. A wonderful event for anyone who loves tomatoes.
Oxnard, California - strawberry festival. This is not new information for the southern Cal hounds who have been, but the strawberry hangs its head in shame at the thought of this festival. Sure, you can buy strawberries, some amount of strawberry shortcake, and some strawberry mocha shakes (not a great combination), but there is no reverence here for the fruit. It is a typical fair, with big inflatable slides for the kids, impossible parking, and the smell of frying grease. I'll pay my respects to the strawberry at the local farmer's markets in early summer, when several different varieties of strawberries and fresh strawberry juice are available.
Anyone else? Who's been to the garlic and artichoke festivals? There must be some great stuff in other parts of the country as well.